“My bedroom is my favorite room in my house — it better be, because I spend so much time in it,” says Justin K., 31. After being diagnosed with reactive arthritis two years ago, the former competitive athlete found himself bed-bound more often than not, thanks to debilitating pain flare-ups that seemed to come out of nowhere.
“At first all I did was lie in bed and stare out the window, wondering what all my friends were doing without me,” he confesses. “That got old, like, real fast.”
Part of dealing with the effects of his illness has been learning how to live his life from his bed, he says. And a major part of that is figuring out ways to target the pain. Medications only help so much and Justin says he’s hesitant to overuse pain medication so he’s had to get creative. For him, that meant turning his bed into a computer gaming station, complete with movable monitors and a lap desk for his keyboard and mouse.
“It helps me stay connected with the outside world and also distracts me on bad pain days,” he says.
Is your bedroom your favorite room of the house too? We talked to doctors, psychologists, nurses, physical therapists, and — of course — fellow people with arthritis about what they do to manage their pain from the comfort of their own bed.
1. Start moving — slowly
“I often tell my patients with arthritis that ‘motion is lotion’ because movement of the joints can help with lubrication, which then reduces pain,” says Kavita Sharma, MD, a pain management physician at Manhattan Pain & Sports Associates. But when you have arthritis, you don’t exactly wake up wanting to jump out of bed and jog a few miles. Instead, warm up your body slowly by doing slow, small movements in your bed, she says. You can do gentle movements lying down, sitting up, or standing and holding on to the bed for support. Here are some gentle range-of-motion exercises you can try.
2. Do some dynamic joint mobility drills
Keeping joints immobile or limiting their range of motion can actually increase pain in the long run so it’s important to start (gently) working your sore joints through their full range of motion, says Sukie Baxter, a physical therapist who specializes in people with arthritis. A physical therapist trained in dynamic joint mobility techniques can teach you some drills you can do lying down or sitting up in your bed to target the joints that are bothering you, she says. For some examples, check out this video.
3. Do some bed yoga
Gentle full-body stretches are a great way to wake up stiff muscles and loosen up painful joints, Ferri says. Don’t let the word “yoga” intimidate you, if you’ve never done it before. Many yoga stretches can be done seated or lying down in the comfort of your own bed, she says. Start small with hand, wrist, neck, and foot stretches. Then you can progress to full-body yoga stretches like Happy Baby, Legs Up The Wall, Child’s Pose, and others.
4. Keep meds by your bed
Need to take your arthritis and/or pain management medications to feel better but in too much pain to get out of bed to go take them? “I keep all my medications and a fresh bottle of water on my bedside table so all I have to do is reach over and take them,” says Amy K., 42, who has ankylosing spondylitis. Interestingly, you shouldn’t store medication in your bathroom anyhow as the heat and humidity fluctuations can damage them, according to the US National Library of Medicine. Make sure the medication is stored safely and not accessible to small children.
5. Take your meds and then go back to sleep
No one says you have to pop right out of bed after taking your morning medications. Instead, set an early alarm, wake up and take your meds, and then go back to sleep for an hour while they kick in, like Angela K., 51, does. “By the time the second alarm rings, I’m ready to face the day,” the rheumatoid arthritis patient says. “This has been a game-changer for me!”
6. Have a calming drink
“Magnesium may have a calming effect on inflammation and may help reduce tight muscles and pain from arthritis,” Baxter says. She recommends a daily magnesium supplement, and one simple (and tasty) way to do that is to add magnesium citrate powder to your morning water bottle. Before you take any supplements to help manage your arthritis, talk to your doctor to make sure it’s a good idea for you, based on your diet, medications, and other factors.
7. Set up your bedroom for success
It can be hard to know when you’ll wake up with a horrible arthritis flare and won’t be able to get out of bed (at least not for a bit) so be prepared by “engineering your environment,” says occupational therapist Brittany Ferri. This could mean keeping your phone and charger, a book, your laptop, pain medications, some non-perishable snacks or whatever else you may need right away, within arm’s reach, she says. (Don’t miss these other tips from occupational therapists about managing arthritis.)
8. De-stress your bedroom
“Stress makes pain worse and causes you to lose sleep, which in turn leads to more pain and flare-ups, creating a vicious cycle,” says Alexis Ogdie, MD, a rheumatologist and assistant professor of medicine and epidemiology at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Practicing good self-care can help reduce the stress that comes with chronic pain and thereby help reduce the pain itself, she says. Try keeping a favorite lotion near your bed and doing a little self-massage, coloring in an adult coloring book, or putting on a pair of colorful cozy socks.
9. Make yourself a ‘hot pocket’
Mornings are often the worst time for Angela’s symptoms. One of her favorite pain relief tricks is to sleep with two heated blankets — one on top, one on bottom, which forms a heated cocoon she can lie in. “I’ll often just soak in the warmth for a good 15 minutes before getting up,” she says.
10. Add compression gloves to your pajamas
If you have arthritis in your hands, like Elizabeth P., 35, then compression gloves can be a lifesaver, she says. She wears the fingerless gloves to sleep; the pressure and warmth keep her hands more limber and less painful come morning. If you don’t like sleeping in gloves, you can always keep them nearby and put them on when you wake up before you get out of bed. Read more about the benefits of using compression gloves.
11. Do a guided meditation
Meditation is great for reducing stress and calming your mind. The research on its benefits for alleviating chronic pain is promising. People who meditated mindfully reported significantly lower pain intensity and unpleasantness ratings than those who just sat quietly, according to a study published in the journal Pain. If you’re already a mindfulness guru you can do it on your own but if you’d like a little help, try a guided meditation or download a meditation app. Not convinced it’s for you? Read about this skeptical patient’s attempt to use meditation to help manage her RA.
12. Rub on some capsaicin gel
Capsaicin is the compound in chili peppers that gives them their heat. While it may feel like fire, it has potent anti-inflammatory benefits, says Rebecca Park, a registered nurse who works with arthritis patients. Here’s more about using creams to alleviate arthritis pain.
13. Phone a friend
Chronic pain and isolation can turn into a vicious cycle, with the pain keeping you in bed and away from others, then the resulting loneliness can increase your feelings of pain, says Stacy Lawrence, a licensed professional counselor who specializes in chronic pain issues. “It is important to remember that feeling sad and lonely when you’re in pain is normal but that’s why it’s so important to seek support from other,” she explains. Thankfully phones, texting, and computer chats make it easy to connect with loved ones without leaving your bed. Read these stories about how patients coped with loneliness related to chronic illness.
14. Take your mind off the pain
Watch a funny video, answer a work email, play with your cat, read a book, do a crossword puzzle — do whatever it takes to stop your brain from focusing solely on your body, Lawrence says. You should listen to your body and call your doctor if you suspect an arthritis flare, but becoming preoccupied with how much pain you’re in can make it feel worse, she says. Keep doing the things that make you happy and engaged, as much as you can.
15. Take a nap
Okay, this one may seem obvious — you’re in bed already so you might as well sleep, right? But this isn’t just giving in to your pain or ignoring it; it’s recognizing that rest and adequate sleep are crucial to managing pain, says Kimber L., 28, who has reactive arthritis. “I had to learn that my body needs far more sleep than it did before to heal and recover, which can seem daunting but it is absolutely necessary. My pain is so much better when I take naps,” she says. “Some days I sleep like 12 hours and I don’t feel guilty about it.”
16. Write in your journal
You should already be keeping a symptom journal — that can be a huge help to your doctors in getting you properly diagnosed, tracking medication adjustments, and tracking the progress of your disease. But keeping a regular journal can also help, Kimber says. “I have a notebook that I write out everything I’m feeling in, especially when the pain is the worst,” she says. (You can also use our ArthritisPower app to track your symptoms and disease activity and share your results with your doctor.)
17. Make a gratitude list for your body
“Negative thinking can make your experience of arthritis pain so much worse,” Dr. Ogdie says. “Resilience is one of the best ways to deal with your disease and that comes from being grateful for the things you do have and trying to focus on the positives.” It’s natural to hate on your body when it’s causing you pain and fatigue, but consider writing a list of all the things your body can do that you’re grateful for, or things about yourself that you’re proud of.
18. Turn on some tunes
“Music therapy is a thing for a reason, y’all,” Kimber says. Not only can music provide a nice diversion, but research has found that it can decrease pain perception, reduce the amount of pain medication needed, help relieve depression related to chronic pain, and give you a sense of better control over your pain. What type of music works best for you is an individual preference but Kimber says she goes for instrumental music, like Aaron Copeland, or contemporary artists with uplifting lyrics.
19. Keep an emergency snack basket by your bed
Sometimes you have a day where the thought of getting out of bed to answer the door for food delivery feels like too much work. But eating regular meals, or at least regular healthy snacks, can help keep your energy up. “I keep a basket of healthy snacks and drinks under my bed,” Kimber says. Or delegate to others in your family: “My husband is sweet about bringing me smoothies or salads when I’m not feeling up to getting food myself.”
20. But skip the sweets
Comfort foods are comforting for a reason. But when it comes to dealing with arthritis pain, traditional eat-in-bed snacks like candy, crackers, and chips may make your pain worse, Dr. Ogdie says. “It’s not scientifically proven but many patients report that eating more sugar in their diet makes their symptoms worse,” she explains. “Even if sugar doesn’t cause flare-ups directly, weight gain and obesity are definitely associated with worse pain.” Check out these tips for cutting out sugar.
21. Have a good cry
“Crying can be so powerful and healing,” Kimber says. “Often I feel like I’m supposed to be ‘strong’ and act like I’m fine but pain hurts! And you know what? I often feel a lot better after a good cry.” Crying isn’t a sign of weakness. Letting out your emotions can help you feel more in control of your pain afterward, she adds.
22. Or have a good laugh
“Some days my arthritis makes me want to cry but other days all I can do is laugh at how ridiculous it all is,” Kimber says. She loves looking up arthritis jokes and memes on her phone or watching funny videos on YouTube, all from her bed. “Also, I love Friends. It’s a classic but Joey never fails to make me laugh,” she adds. “Laughing helps me forget the pain.”